History of Spine Pain/Injury: Each patient has a different history of injury, genetics, and prior treatment. Even so, there is a common pattern that spine injuries and diseases follow, whether it involves your neck (cervical) or lower back (lumbar): severe trauma (falls, auto accidents) or heavy lifting can damage spine structures all at once, or more commonly, after repetitive injuries. Pain may come from:
- Damage of the discs (shock absorbers between the bones)
- Ligaments (tough tissues that connect bone to bone)
Numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in the arms or legs may be a late sign of nerve irritation or compression. Back problems may recur year after year as critical structures (discs, bone) continue to deteriorate due to sports activities, work activities, obesity, and family history. This means you may experience alternation periods or cycles of pain with weeks or months of lesser pain. The severity and length of pain often increase slowly over time, due to the continued wear of spine structures. Sudden, severe aggravation of symptoms is common with heavy lifting, prolonged bending or sitting, falls, or collisions. No matter what started the pain or other irritating symptoms, there are typical diagnostic and therapeutic steps your physician will take to help you manage your pain. Generally, there is no permanent “cure” for back ailments.
Diagnostic Tests: Your exam and history help your physician determine the cause of most spine problems. Radiographs (x-rays) are used to look for damage to bones such as:
- Scoliosis (curvature of the spine)
- Stress Fractures
MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and CT scans (computerized topagraphy) are needed to see nerves, discs, and deep bone injuries in your spine.
Physical Therapy: plays a key role in the management of spine injuries and diseases. Strengthening of the muscles that support the spine (core strengthening for low back) and exercises to improve posture and flexibility are a mainstay in the treatment of your spine. Traction may be used in physical therapy to treat and reduce neck pain. Typically, it takes 2 weeks to learn a home exercise program, and in some cases 4-6 weeks to see improvement from regular strengthening. Techniques for proper lifting, bending, weight workouts, work activities, and sports activities are reviewed by the therapist as well as reviewing proper sitting techniques and work setups (ergonomics) that reduce stress on the spine.
Physical therapy is demanded by most insurance carriers before they will approve additional imaging such as MRI or CT scans. Most require 6 weeks of therapy. This is because it is recognized that patients who learn and practice the therapeutic techniques are most likely to improve, and have fewer symptoms over a long period of time, even if the disease process does not change. Therapy, like medications prescribed, will not “heal” injured bone, discs, or ligaments, but it will help improve daily function.
Do you have spine pain that you would like an orthopedic specialist to diagnose? Visit OrthoNeuro+NOW Orthopedic Urgent Care!